I never thought I’d say this: but I think I support Rahm Emmanuel:
The head of Chicago’s school board called talks Saturday “productive” but said no agreement has been reached yet to avert a looming teachers strike.
“We’ve got parents and children who are wondering what’s going to happen to them Monday morning,” David Vitale, president of the Chicago Board of Education, told reporters Saturday night. “We have an obligation to them to tell them what’s going to happen. And we really want to get this work done.”
Teachers and support staff in the nation’s third-largest public school school system set a walkout date for Monday, which would mark the first time they have gone on strike in 25 years.
If a strike happens, it would affect nearly 700 schools and about 400,000 students, including some from neighborhoods struggling with crime and gang problems.
What are the issues? The media seem to be evading the hard numbers. Here’s Fox News:
The district offered a cost-of-living raise of 2 percent a year for four years, which the union said was unacceptable — especially after Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year canceled a previously negotiated 4 percent raise, citing budget problems. A school district spokeswoman has said that raise will not be made up and the district will not address it in negotiations. The union has lowered the amount it’s asking for, but has not said what its counterproposal is now. Only weeks ago, it sought a 19 percent raise in the first year of the contract.
The union also is concerned about raises based on teacher experience and education. It has said the district agreed to retain language allowing raises based on experience, called step increases, but it would not actually pay the money now. Keeping the language in the contract, though, could be important for teachers in future negotiations.
Teachers also are concerned about new teacher evaluations, health benefits and how a longer school day for students is being implemented.
Another big issue is that Emmanuel is extending the school day by 90 minutes. He has compromised on rehiring 500 teachers so that teachers will not have to work more, even if students do. I find longer school days a dubious proposition at best but Emmanuel is at least offering a rise and more hires in exchange.
Keep in mind the situation we’re dealing with, however. The nation is in a slow recovery with yet another disappointing jobs report released on Friday. Wages are falling. There are tens of millions of people in this country who would mud-wrestle Michael Moore to get a guaranteed 2% per year raise for four years.
Keep this in mind, too: Illinois currently has unfunded healthcare and retirement liabilities equal to over $3,000 for every man, woman and child in the state. They are quickly going bankrupt on the commitments they have made to public employees.
This is the hard reality Rahm Emmanuel has found himself in. And that fiscal reality is not going to change. I just hope the kids don’t get hurt in the crossfire.
(Aside: the union has its headquarters in Merchandise Mart. That’s the same Merchandise Mart that the Kennedys use to own. Only they owned it through a trust based in Fiji so that they didn’t pay any inheritance tax on it. And they have the nerve to criticize Romney.)
(Second aside: Sal 11000 Beta started kindergarten a couple of weeks ago. She’s at a public school — indeed, one of the reasons we moved here was for the great public schools. I’m very happy with her teachers and the school in general. I think they should be compensated well. But I also understand that we don’t have unlimited tax revenues. There’s a balance to be struck. And Emmanuel, it seems, is finally trying to find it.)